Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the Senate and the House of Representatives, 24 February 1802

To the Senate and the House of Representatives

Gentlemen of the Senate and
of the House of Representatives.

I communicate to both houses of Congress a Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the subject of our Marine hospitals, which appear to require legislative attention.

As connected with the same subject, I also inclose information respecting the situation of our seamen and boatmen frequenting the port of New Orleans, and suffering there from sickness & the want of accomodation. there is good reason to believe their numbers greater than stated in these papers. when we consider how great a proportion of the territory of the US. must communicate with that port singly; & how rapidly that territory is increasing it’s population & productions, it may perhaps be thought reasonable to make hospital provisions there of a different order from those at foreign ports generally.

Th: Jefferson
Feb. 24. 1802.

RC (DNA: RG 233, PM, 7th Cong., 1st sess.); endorsed by a House clerk. PrC (DLC). RC (DNA: RG 46, LPPM, 7th Cong., 1st sess.); in Meriwether Lewis’s hand, signed and dated by TJ; endorsed by a Senate clerk. Recorded in SJL with notation “Marine Hospitals.” Enclosures: (1) Gallatin to TJ, 16 Feb., and enclosures. (2) Extract of Evan Jones to the secretary of state, 10 Aug. 1801, noting the great number of “American citizens, especially Seamen and Boatmen from the Ohio” who die miserably in New Orleans every year “for want of a Hospital into which they might be put and taken care of” and calling for the establishment of a fund “for the preservation of those poor people by imposing a light tax upon every vessel and boat that comes in, as well as upon every seaman and boatman,” estimating that about 200 vessels, with eight men each, and 350 to 400 boats, with four men each, “have come down from the Ohio” during the preceding 12 months (Tr in DNA: RG 233, PM, endorsed by a House clerk, together with Enclosure No. 3, as No. 5; Tr in DNA: RG 46, LPPM, endorsed by a Senate clerk). (3) Extract of E.M. [i.e. Elihu H. Bay] to the secretary of state, 4 Nov. 1802 [i.e. 1801], noting the absence of proper accommodations “for poor and infirm Seamen and Boatmen” at New Orleans, and observing that “Something like an Hospital establishment, to be superintended by American Physicians, would go a great way to alleviate the distresses of these useful men” (Tr in DNA: RG 233, PM, endorsed by a House clerk, together with Enclosure No. 2, as No. 5; PrC in DNA: RG 46, LPPM, endorsed by a Senate clerk; printed with full name and correct date in Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 2:221–2).

Meriwether Lewis delivered the message and enclosures on marine hospitals to Congress on 24 Feb. Both houses immediately read the documents. The House referred them to the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures the same day and they were printed. The Senate ordered them to “lie for consideration” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:106–7; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:184–5; Message from the President of the United States, Accompanying a Report of the Secretary of the Treasury to Him, and Two Statements Marked A and B, on the Subject of Marine Hospitals; Also, Sundry Documents Respecting the Situation of Seamen and Boatmen of the United States, Frequenting the Port of New-Orleans, 24th February, 1802 [Washington, D.C., 1802; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , Nos. 3339, 3340]).

Legislative attention: on 3 May 1802, TJ signed the law which set up a general fund to receive monies collected for the relief of sick and disabled seamen. It gave the president the power to distribute the monies “as circumstances shall require” for the seamen’s benefit. To obtain consent for this new arrangement, which took control from the particular ports where the monies were collected, $15,000 was set aside for the erection of a marine hospital in Massachusetts. The “Act to amend an act intituled ‘An act for the relief of sick and disabled Seamen’” also gave the president power to provide for U.S. seamen at New Orleans and to appoint a director for a marine hospital there. To cover the costs, the act required that the master of every “boat, raft, or flat” proceeding on the Mississippi to New Orleans pay the collector or naval officer at Fort Adams 20 cents per month for every person they employed, the amount to be deducted from the seamen’s wages. The director of the marine hospital at New Orleans was also allowed to admit “sick foreign seamen” at the charge of 75 cents per day (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. description ends , 11:1163–4; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:192–3). For the previous limitations on the distribution of marine hospital funds, see Vol. 34:678–82.

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